2 churches sue the state, look to stop civil unions

Published: Dec. 29, 2011 at 11:30 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 29, 2011 at 11:56 PM HST
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Shawn Luiz, attorney for the churches
Shawn Luiz, attorney for the churches

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii churches that consider homosexuality a sin say they should not be forced to support civil union ceremonies.  Their new lawsuit aims to stop the new law just days before it begins.  The civil union law goes into effect this Sunday January 1.

The two churches that filed the lawsuit are the Emmanuel Temple House of Praise in Wahiawa and the Lighthouse Outreach Center Assembly of God in Waipahu.  They are suing the state, Governor Neil Abercrombie and the Department of Health Director Loretta Fuddy.  The churches claim Act 1, the civil union law violates their right to religion and tramples the federal constitution.  They do not want civil union ceremonies in their church but worry if they don't allow them gay couples will sue them.

"Well if you look at Act 1 the language only says that persons that object to same sex unions do not have to be the officiant, but it doesn't say anything about whether you can decline to allow them to use your church grounds," said Shawn Luiz, attorney for the churches.

Luiz says complaints from gay couples have already begun and that at least one church has had to defend itself before the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and faces a fine up to $10,000 plus attorney fees.  Something the churches don't think they should be subject to since they say civil unions violate their religious beliefs.

"Religious entities and houses of worship have a right to say no to allowing same sex unions on their property. To not only not perform the ceremony itself but to not allow their property to be used," said Luiz. "A state cannot enact an anti discrimination statute that tramples on the rights of the first amendment."

Governor Abercrombie still supports civil unions.  His office says his position remains the same as when he signed it into law in February.

The state attorney general has until 10:00 pm tonight to file its argument.  The churches have until 8:00 am to respond.  By Friday afternoon Judge Michael Seabright is expected to decide.  If he sides with the churches the law may not go into effect on Sunday as planned.

We tried to speak with the pastors of the churches however we were not able to reach Pastor Carl Harris of Emmanuel Temple.

When we met Joe Hunkin, the Lighthouse Outreach pastor he immediately became angry and tried to kick us off the property even though we were standing on the public sidewalk at the time. He refused to talk about the lawsuit he initiated.

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